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Study Notes

Aggression: Evaluating Media Influences

A Level

To read about the Media Influences, click here.

Weisz and Earls (1995) showed 86 males and 106 female university students one of four films depicting various types of aggression: a) sexual aggression against a male (Deliverance); (b) sexual aggression against a female (Straw Dogs); (c) physical aggression (Die Hard 2); or (d) a neutral film containing no explicit scenes of physical or sexual aggression (Days of Thunder). After viewing the film, all subjects were asked to complete a 252-item questionnaire measuring the acceptance of interpersonal violence, acceptance of rape myths, attraction to aggression and levels of empathy. Participants then viewed a re-enactment of a rape trial and completed a 23-item rape trial questionnaire. Results showed males were more accepting of interpersonal violence and rape myths, more attracted to sexual aggression, less sympathetic toward the rape trial victim, and less likely to judge the defendant as guilty of rape. This supports desensitisation as an explanation for how the media can increase acceptance of aggressive behaviours.

However, an issue with research carried out into the effects of the media on aggression (for example, Weisz and Earls, 1995) is that of ecological validity. Most research has been carried out in laboratory settings and has measured aggression levels on a questionnaire or with subsequent behaviour towards confederates. This raises issues of validity as to whether the measured violence would occur in a 'real world' setting. Norms governing behaviour and particularly aggressive behaviour in public may be far more likely to inhibit an aggressive response where the repercussions could be fines or a prison sentence.

Berkowitz and Alioto (1973) carried out a laboratory experiment where participants who saw a film depicting aggression as vengeance (revenge) gave more (fake) electric shocks of longer duration to a confederate. Berkowitz and Alioto (1973) propose that aggression is more likely to occur if the viewed aggression is seen as an acceptable response and disinhibition is more likely to occur.

A practical application of our understanding of the processes of disinhibition has led to the American Army using games as a recruiting tool. From the perspective of the armed forces, recruiting individuals with an interest in violence and aggression and a disinhibited response to aggression is beneficial for future soldiers. Soldiers in a war situation are likely to have to behave in an aggressive and violent way, so it is more beneficial for them to respond aggressively as the norm. If they didn’t automatically and quickly respond aggressively in a threat situation, this could have potential issues for their own survival and those of the people they are trying to protect.

Fischer and Greitemeyer (2006) found that male participants who had been exposed to aggressive song lyrics about women were more likely to give higher levels of hot chilli sauce to female confederates rather than male confederates than those participants who had heard neutral lyrics. Fischer and Greitemeyer (200) also found that the misogynistic lyrics also resulted in the males recalling more negative attributes of women and reporting higher levels of aggression towards women. This procedure was replicated with female participants and ‘men hating’ song lyrics with similar results. This research demonstrates the cognitive priming that aggressive song lyrics can have on subsequent aggressive behaviour.

Exam hint: Desensitisation, disinhibition and cognitive priming may all operate together, and a discussion can include all three. However, make sure you show the examiner you know the difference between the theories with a clear explanation of each.

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